Ocean City approved a contract with the city Police Department's union that involves officers paying more for their health benefits next year.

The one-year agreement, which takes effect Jan. 1, means officers will pay 1.5 percent of their salaries for health benefits, Ocean City Administrator James Rutala said Tuesday.

The change means about $50,000 for the year in savings, he said.

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The new police contract is a "sidebar agreement"- their ongoing contract does not expire until January 2012, Rutala said.

The PBA is the first of the city's unions to agree to reopen contracts to offer givebacks, Rutala said.

"We're negotiating with the unions because we want to make sure we're well prepared (for the future)," Rutala said.

"The city came to us on what we can do to help out," said Michael Gray, president of the local PBA. "They asked if we could start paying early. We discussed it and thought it was the right thing to do."

Throughout Ocean City, which has 261 full-time employees, the cost of health care benefits is about $6 million, Rutala said, adding that the city, which has state health benefits, has seen the cost of benefits increase 10 percent to 20 percent each year.

Meanwhile, Ocean City Council is considering an ordinance that would eliminate the council members' health benefits but would also increase their salaries.

No such ordinance has been introduced yet, Rutala said.

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